When he met with the local media on Tuesday, IUP head coach Curt Cignetti never once uttered the word “playoffs.”
Considering the Crimson Hawks are coming off a painfully embarrassing 26-point loss at Slippery Rock and their hopes of getting back to the NCAA Division II playoffs took a serious hit with the defeat, you might think Cignetti would be concerned about his team’s future.
Well, if you think that, you’d be wrong.
As far as Cignetti is concerned, the future is a place reserved for time travel and spaceships. It has no bearing on his football team.
That’s why he never mentioned the word “playoffs,” nor did he talk about anything beyond this week’s game, when No. 22 IUP (5-1) plays host to Edinboro (3-3) in a PSAC West game at Frank Cignetti Field.
The single-minded focus of Cignetti and his team is on the Fighting Scots — and nothing else.
“The focus is on the opponent this week,” Cignetti said. “I’m not looking beyond this week.”
That’s the way it has to be for IUP, which fell 15 spots in this week’s AFCA Top 25, from No. 7 to No. 22, after the loss. The simple truth is that IUP won’t get to the playoffs if it doesn’t beat Edinboro. So the Crimson Hawks’ remaining games against Mercyhurst, Clarion, Gannon and Shippensburg don’t mean anything yet.
“We’re focused in on Edinboro,” Cignetti reiterated.
While the Crimson Hawks are still smarting from a lopsided loss, the Fighting Scots will come to town with issues of their own:
• They lost their starting quarterback, Cody Harris, to an injury in the second game of the season, and have turned their offense over to three freshmen who have shared time under center.
• In their last game, the Fighting Scots got whipped by Gannon, 55-14. They did beat Seton Hill and Lock Haven without Harris in the weeks before the Gannon game, but those teams are a combined 2-10.
• Dating to last year, Edinboro has lost seven of its past 11 games.
But Cignetti isn’t about to go ahead and put down a win for his team just yet. Last season, the Fighting Scots finished 4-7, but fought the Crimson Hawks the whole way in a 26-10 loss in Week 6.
“They’re a 3-3 team,” he said. “They’re like us in that they’ve had a few injuries. They gave us fits last year, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”
The same could be said for the Crimson Hawks, who looked last week like they weren’t ready to go when the Slippery Rock game began. Things never got better after that, as Cignetti took the most lopsided loss of his tenure at IUP.
“All you’ve got to do is put the tape on early, the first eight or 10 plays,” he said. “You can see mistakes starting to show up.”
And so this week, Cignetti has talked to his team about getting off to a better start, and about keeping the focus on Edinboro. That’s the way it has to be for a team whose season is now in peril after one afternoon of bad football.
Rather than buy into all the hype around the team, Cignetti wants his players to focus on today and forget about the rest.
“It’s been a challenge for some guys on this team sort of from the beginning,” Cignetti said. “Now our backs are against the wall, so to speak.”
Want to talk about IUP football? Log on to indianagazette.com Wednesdays at noon for “Hawk Talk,” an interactive chat with the Gazette’s Matt Burglund, who covers IUP football.